Sunday, 20 April 2014

Cinnamon Buns Extraordinaire

Cinnamon Buns Extraordinaire

A special family brunch, especially for Easter, has to be delicious, and what’s more delicious than cinnamon buns?  The fragrance alone is enough to float people up to the heavens.  These are a combination of my Coconut Swirl Buns and my Cinnamon Buns since I was in the mood to be especially creative.

These take time to make.  I spent about fifteen minutes on the tangzong the evening before, then up before sunrise I was, which was at six thirty, and we finally sat down to eat at around eleven.  (No worries, I was not slaving over a hot stove the entire time.  There’s lots of down time with cinnamon buns.)  This recipe makes over two dozen buns. 

What’s a tangzong you ask?  It’s a Chinese method involving a milk and flour slurry that the little yeast people gobble up, so they get gas really badly, making the dough rise quite nicely.  Think of them like so many ill behaved minions, if you will…  This is an unusual method of making dough, but so far, it works for me. 

The tangzong takes about fifteen minutes.
The Tangzong
2/3 cup white flour
4 cups water
2/3 cup milk powder

The Dough
2 ½ cups white flour (plus extra for rolling out)
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour (plus extra for adjusting moisture levels of dough)
½ cup vanilla sugar (or plain sugar)
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup milk powder
½ cup coconut milk powder
4 teaspoons yeast (2 North American size packets)
2 tablespoons soft butter (plus extra to grease bowl)

The Filling
 28 gram unsweetened baking chocolate square or equivalent of sweet dark chocolate
2 cups jaggery (brown sugar okay)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ cup walnuts
½ cup hemp hearts
sprinklings coarse salt (optional)
2 tablespoons soft butter

The Glaze
1 tablespoon ghee (or butter)
1 cup icing sugar
2 tablespoons hot coffee

Hunting for Easter Eggs
Start with the tangzong by combining flour and milk powder with some of the water in a saucepan.  Stir to make a fairly smooth paste.  Add the rest of the water, and cook on medium heat, stirring often.  When it starts to thicken, remove from heat and set aside to cool. 

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flours, sugar, salt, milk powder, coconut milk powder and yeast.  Yes, you are adding yeast to the dry mix.  Put the machine on to the lowest speed to combine the ingredients well.  Add softened butter.  Then slowly pour in the luke warm tangzong.  Keep the mixer going on the lowest speed.  We’ve had a lot of humidity lately, so it wasn’t necessary for me to add all the tangzong.  I kept adding till the dough looked moist enough, but then it was too moist and sticky, so I stopped adding tangzong and added a little extra whole wheat flour instead.  I switched attachments to the dough hook and let it knead for about ten minutes.

While the dough was kneading, I moved on to two things.  First I turned on the oven, just to heat it up a bit.  I turned it off after a couple of minutes, and turned on the oven light.  At the same time, I started the filling. 

I don’t like overly sweet stuff, so I prefer unsweetened baking chocolate, but sweetened is fine too.  Put a square of the baking chocolate into the blender and buzz till it’s broken up into tiny bits.  Then add the jaggery, cinnamon, walnuts and hemp hearts.  I will admit here I’d intended to use a cup of walnuts, but realized I didn’t have enough, so I supplemented with always healthy hemp hearts.  You can go with just the walnuts if you desire.  I wouldn’t recommend a full cup of hemp hearts though, because the texture isn’t crunchy enough. 
Aunty Pasta's contribution- home made chocolates.

Back to the dough now—when the machine is finished kneading, place dough into a large buttered bowl.  Turn the dough over and around, till it’s covered with a sheen of butter.  Put a clean tea towel over the top to keep the humidity high, and place a thick tea towel on those warmed oven rungs.  Proof dough in the warm (not hot!) oven for about an hour, till it doubles in size.

Roll lengthwise, pressing firmly.
At this point we went for a morning hot tub, robins twittering, woodpeckers hee-hawing, hawks soaring overhead… Then we had breakfast.  I showered and got dressed.  (I’m giving these details to emphasize one doesn't need to stress and suffer while making cinnamon buns.)  Finally the dough rose, so I deflated it with a punch.  Split the dough in two balls, and sprinkle a bit of white flour on a clean surface.  Roll out the first dough ball to a rectangular shape, about a half inch thick.  With your hand, spread half the next amount of butter.  The warmth of your hand will make this easy to spread, so get it even.  Spread half the filling over the dough in an even layer.  If you like, sprinkle a tiny amount of coarse salt over the filling as well, about ¼ teaspoon at the very most. 
Proof in a cozy warm oven, never a hot oven!

The dough will be a bit loose as you start to fold, so press firmly.  After a few folds and rolls, the tension will improve, so roll it up then slice into ½ inch slices.  Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Repeat for the next ball of dough and stuffing.  Any loose stuffing that falls out can be sprinkled onto the tops of the buns.

Bake at 350 F for about twenty to thirty minutes, till they become golden.  Remove from oven, pull up by the parchment paper and set on cooling racks. 

Finally make the glaze.  In a bowl, add the ghee or butter, icing sugar and coffee.  Stir to get a smooth paste.  If it seems too watery, add more icing sugar.  Drizzle oven the buns while they’re still hot.

We had these with grilled Hot Italian sausages, scrambled eggs, fruit salad and my sister’s home made chocolates.  No need for anything more to eat today.  Time to waddle off for a sunny afternoon walk though… 
Bet you won't be able to eat just one...

Easter Brunch
Cinnamon Buns, scrambled eggs, sausages, fruit salad--chocolates on the table later!

Friday, 18 April 2014

Learning to love kerela (bitter melon)

Kerela, also called 'bitter melon'

Kerela is an odd looking vegetable that is easily bypassed at the grocers.  It looks half way between a dead rodent and a bumpty green fish. But it’s one of those vegetables that have near miracle claims in the health department, so I am determined to learn to love it.  Like olives, it is an acquired taste.

The first time I made it I followed a stuffed kerela recipe, which was exceedingly labour intensive, and then too strong to eat.  We scraped out the stuffing and ate that, with the poor kerelas getting tossed out.  There’s a reason for kerela also being known as ‘bitter’ melon.  At a certain large grocery chain, it’s also known as ‘Indian melon’.

But my stuffing showed me what kerela could become, if handled more cautiously.  This is what I’ve come up with, and it’s actually good to eat.  Maybe in time we’ll develop such a taste for it we can go for the whole, stuffed kerela recipe, but in the meantime, this will be a good bridge for that gap.  For a vegetarian version, double the amount of mushrooms and add diced paneer.  This recipe serves six, and is made in under an hour, excluding soaking time.
Run your thumb down the middle to clean out seeds.

2 kerelas
½ cup coarse salt

1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
10 curry leaves (optional)
1 small red onion
1 pound minced lamb or beef
1 heaping tablespoon dried currants
4 cloves garlic, diced
2 Thai chilies, diced (or to taste)
3 cups finely diced mushrooms, or six if you’re not using meat
1 cup diced paneer  (only if you’re not using meat)
1 tablespoon Kitchen King masala, or a favourite prepared masala
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 

Salt helps remove the bitterness.
Trim the ends and use a potato peeler to scrape the rubbery knobs and bits of the vegetable.  Mine had been in a plastic bag in the fridge, a bad idea, so they weren’t as fresh as if they’d been stored out in the open.  If yours are super fresh, keep the scrapings.  Once scraped, slice it down the middle, and use your thumb to scrape out the inner seed core.  Discard the seeds and pith.  Dice the kerela and spread out in a colander.  If your kerela is very fresh, add the scrapings as well.  Sprinkle the salt over the kerela, and set aside for one hour.

Heat oil in a large non-stick pan.  Add cumin, fennel and curry leaves and let sizzle.  Add the minced lamb or beef, if you are using it.  Break it up to be sure it’s in small pieces, and browns nicely.  Toss in the currants at this point.  Once the meat is starting to get golden, add the onions and cook till they start to get golden as well.  Next come the mushrooms.  (Add the paneer too if you’re skipping the meat.)  Give them about five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic, chilies and masala, along with the turmeric powder.  Stir well and let cook about five minutes, stirring from time to time. 

Rinse the kerela well.  Add to the meat and mushroom mixture.  If it looks dry, add about a quarter cup of water.  Cover, and cook till the mushrooms and kerela are tender, about fifteen minutes.  Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper, if necessary.
Rinse kerela well, and don't worry about clinging water.

I served this over a turmeric tinted basmati rice.  Salting the kerela helped to take out some of the bitterness.  If you can handle strong olives, you can handle this dish.  I find the flavour unusual and intriguing.  

Kerela is supposed to be excellent for reducing blood sugar, and is often given to diabetics.  Since adult onset diabetes runs in my family, I want to eat everything I can to counteract that issue, especially if I enjoy the meal!  

Kerela, mushroom, and minced beef over basmati rice
I could get used to this!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Hot and Spicy Coconut Tofu

Hot and Spicy Coconut Tofu
Colourful enough?

When I say ‘tofu’, my family members tend to stuff their fingers in their ears, and then slip out the door.  But I recently tasted yet another tofu dish at a gathering, and was pleasantly surprised.  I picked up a block of the most solid type I could find, and got creative.

This spicy and creamy dish is easy to make and actually tastes luscious.  If I were to serve tofu to guests, this is what I’d make.  This can be made in the time it takes to cook the rice and it serves four people very generously, nay gluttonously.  While the combination of ‘glutton’ and ‘tofu’ sounds absurd, the coconut gravy allows the oxymoron.  If time isn’t a factor, the tofu can be marinated for 24 hours ahead of time, ensuring the spices permeate every tofu molecule, although it isn’t necessary.

marinate tofu with garlic, chilies, and fresh ginger
Marinate ahead of time or that day!
3 cloves fresh garlic, finely diced
3 Thai chilies, finely diced (or to taste)
1 x 2” ginger root, finely diced
1 block tofu, diced

1 stick cinnamon
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seed
½ teaspoon mustard seed
12 fresh curry leaves (frozen okay)
1 medium sized red onion, diced  

1/3 cup water
½ cup powdered coconut milk
½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
15 grates fresh black pepper (or to taste)

1 sweet red pepper, diced
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into manageable pieces

Combine the garlic, chilies, ginger and tofu.  Set aside.  (You can marinate a day early if you desire.) 

The seeds sizzle up so fast!
Pour the oil into a large non-stick pan along with the cinnamon stick.  Turn the heat to high. When the oil seems hot, sprinkle in the cumin seed and mustard.  Within moments the seeds will sizzle, and when the mustard seed looks greyish, add the onion.  Turn the heat down to medium, and cook till the onion starts to become translucent and golden at the edges.  Add the tofu mix. 

Do not stir!  Instead, just leave the tofu to brown on the side it landed on.  After about five minutes, use a spatula to gently turn the tofu pieces over, and mix things up a bit.  When those sides get golden, turn over again, and let get golden.  (Each side takes about three minutes.)  Add water, coconut milk powder and red pepper.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Use a large pan to get tofu golden on all sides.

Gently stir to mix coconut and water into a creamy gravy.  Don’t worry about those lumps, as they’ll dissolve quickly.  When that’s heated through and the red pepper is almost tender (in a couple of minutes) add the asparagus and cook another minute or two till that’s also tender.  Then you can serve the creamy, spicy tofu over basmati rice.  If you like your gravy thicker, sprinkle in a bit more coconut milk powder.  This stuff is miraculous! 

I got the idea for this tofu dish from my recent pollock recipe.  Instead of fish, which might not be an environmentally thoughtful choice, this vegan meal is delicious yet responsible, especially if you’re hankering for something luxurious and elegant to serve to guests.  Earth Day is coming up soon, what will you be eating that’s good for the planet?  

Hot and Spicy Coconut Tofu
Actually I made my recipe for saffron basmati rice, but used turmeric, since it was just 'us'.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Super Easy Home Made 2 Layer Jello

Organic Lemon and Cream Layered Jello, Homemade!

Back in the 60s, layered Jello was a big deal.  My mother bought the boxes of artificial colour, sugar, artificial flavours and gelatin, and it was a thrill, especially when she mastered the art of the Striped Jello.  For my family dinner, celebrating what would have been her hundredth birthday, I did my best to pull off a home made, natural food version.

After hunting around on Google, I could only come up with mixes involving not only the boxes of chemicals, but advice to mix them with either whipped edible petroleum product, or better, yet, powdered coffee ‘whitener’.  So relying on memory as best as I could for the striping procedure, I went ahead and trusted that my cooking angels would guide my hand.  They did.

This is so simple, it’s silly!

This recipe serves eight to ten, is prepared in ten minutes, but has to set for at least four hours. 

3 tablespoons vanilla sugar
Vanilla extract darkened juice, so I added colour.
2 packets gelatin powder, (two tablespoons gelatin powder)
4 cups boiling water
2 organic lemons, carefully washed, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
3 tablespoons honey (or to taste)
1 drop yellow food colouring (so optional!)
½ teaspoon orange flower water (optional)
2 cups vanilla icecream 

In a big container, sprinkle sugar and gelatin powder.  I went with vanilla sugar, despite my usual raw Indian sugar, because I wanted to keep a pale yellow colour.  Pour the boiling water over the sugar and gelatin powder, stir and let dissolve. 

Add lemon juice and zest, and honey.  Taste for sweetness and lemon flavour.  It needs to taste right to you now, so add more honey if needed.  

At this point I also added vanilla, immediately darkening my mix, my angel howling, ‘you might as well have used the raw Indian sugar!’  True, and then I could have added the vanilla, and since the mix was already darkish, it wouldn’t have shocked me.  But I was shocked, so, as my mom would have done, I dug around in the cupboard for yellow food colouring, and restored the colour.  (Countertops needed bleaching later…)

Because I love all flavours floral, I added the orange blossom water, but this is also an optional step.  Ice-cream was stirred in next.  Make sure the ice-cream fully melts into the warm water, before you set it into the fridge to chill.  If I owned a jello mold, I would have poured the mix into that mold, which I’d have waiting in the fridge.  Instead, I poured it into a big pretty glass bowl, but as I was moving the bowl into the fridge, it waved around a bit and splattered the bowl.  Next time, I’ll put the bowl in the fridge first, and pour oh so carefully.

Next steps involve stirring in ice-cream.
Anyway, the work was done!  The ice-cream molecules swim up to the surface, leaving a bottom layer of clear lemon jelly, and a thick and creamy layer of lemony deliciousness.

My faintest memories of making this at the age of thirteen involved ice-cream that perfectly separated into layers, and the memories were right. 

Although a few family members griped and grouched about being served Jello for dessert, they all grabbed at the Home Made Dad’sCookies served with the layered jello, so I got away with it.  I find the taste of homemade jello done with organic lemons, vanilla and honey intensely delicious.  It’s fresh, light and sweetly fragrant.  To me, it’s a perfect end to a heavy meal!

Super Easy Organic Lemon and Cream Two Layered Jello, homemade!
How easy is that?

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Home Made Dad’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Home Made Dad's Chocolate Chip Cookies

As much as I love the commercial version of these, I was in a mood to cook up a tribute to my own parents tonight for a big family party.  So I thought I’d whump these up, along with a home-made layered jello similar to the boxed versions my mother used to create.  These cookies are healthier, of course, made with whole wheat and no chemicals, and not quite as flat and hard as the store bought version.  But well worth making, nevertheless. 

This recipe makes about three dozen cookies, and takes about forty minutes by the time you’re munching on nice, warm cookies and the house is redolent with the scent of baking.  Preheat oven to 375 F.

½ cup butter
½ cup solid (chilled) coconut oil
2 cups jaggery (aka raw Indian sugar, or Punjabi Shakkar)  Use brown sugar, if you must.
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ cup unsweetened dried coconut
2 cups unprocessed oats
2 cups whole wheat flour
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Cream butter and oil together.  Add the jaggery, or brown sugar.  Keep beating till fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Continue beating on high. 

Coconut and oats should be ground up a bit first.
Dad’s cookies have a certain texture I wanted to replicate, so I put the coconut and oats into the blender, and whizzed for a few moments.  I wanted them fairly mealy, so they’d blend into the cookie.  Put the blended coconut and oats into a large bowl, along with the flour, salt, soda and cinnamon.  Stir to combine, then put mixer onto slow, and add the dry mix a little at a time.  You’ll need to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula from time to time.  When they’re pretty much mixed in, add the chocolate chips and mix some more.  These don’t have to be perfectly distributed yet.  The dough will be fairly stiff.

Use your hands to form little balls of dough, less than an inch across.  Place them about two inches away from each other on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Once you’ve got two sheets of dough balls, check for even chocolate chip distribution. Pick out and push in where needed.  Greedy guts me always leaves extra chips in a few cookies for you know who.  Once the sheets are loaded with the dough balls, use a fork to flatten them a bit.  
Slightly flatten with a fork.

Bake at 375 F for about ten minutes. Remove from sheets and cool on racks. (I used four sheets, so I was prepared to fling the next set into the oven when the first set came out.)  

Let cool so you don’t scald yourself.  Then indulge.  I served these with my own version of my mother’s layered jello, which I’ll write about tomorrow.  Stay tuned.  

My brother will be returning to Vancouver tomorrow with a big bag of these Dad’s cookies. I hope he enjoys!

Home Made Dad's Chocolate Chip Cookies
Great with a glass of milk, too!